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What is a dream feed—and how do I do it?

For some breastfeeding babies, a “dream feed” may be the answer to getting them to sleep through the night. Here’s how it works.

What is a dream feed—and how do I do it?

Photo: iStockphoto

If it’s your dream to have your baby sleep through the night, a “dream feed” may be one way to make that happen. A dream feed involves feeding your baby when they’re still sleeping. Typically, dream feeds are done around 10 or 11 p.m., before you’ve gone to bed for the night. The idea is that a baby will sleep longer through the night and, ideally, until morning on a full stomach.

How do dream feeds work?

If you want to give your baby a dream feed, put them down for bed at the time you normally would. Then, around 10 or 11 p.m., gently get your baby out of their crib and put them at your breast or give them a bottle, all without waking them up. “The great thing about babies is that they have a natural instinct to suck if they’re at a nipple,” says Jason Freedman, co-author of the book The Dream Feed Method.

When you pick up your sleeping baby for the feed, the key is to minimize stimulation—don’t turn on the lights, sing or change their diaper unless there’s poop in it. When the breast or bottle feeding is done, gently place your baby back in bed and slip out of the room.

“It can work beautifully for some kids,” says Alanna McGinn, a sleep consultant and founder of Good Night Sleep Site, “but for some babies, it won’t work.” While some babies will take that full tummy and sleep until morning, others will wake up fully at a dream feed and have difficulty getting back to sleep.

For others, the feed might go well, but they will still wake up throughout the night, so it doesn’t accomplish its purpose. Your baby may also start waking up frequently at 3 or 4 a.m.—another sign that dream feeds aren’t working, says McGinn. “Because we’ve disturbed the sleep pattern, they might have trouble getting back into a regular rhythm,” she explains of the risk of having babies wake.

Dream feeds also won’t work for all parents—you may prefer to go to bed at 8 or 9 p.m. and sleep through until your baby’s first natural wake-up. That’s OK, too, says McGinn. But if you want to try a dream feed, you could have dad (or a non-breastfeeding parent) give the dream feed with a bottle of pumped breastmilk or formula and allow mom to continue to sleep through until the next waking. “It’s a great way to split up the feeds between parents,” says McGinn.

When can you start dream feeds?

Dream feeds can start at any age and go on for as long as you’re willing and as long they’re working. But when McGinn is working with clients to improve their baby’s sleep, she typically suggests weaning them off dream feeds by about eight months, as most babies should be able to sleep through the night without feeding at that age.

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Their bellies will typically be large enough that they can drink enough milk before bed and it will carry them through the night. Still, check with your baby’s doctor to make sure that they are otherwise healthy and don’t need a night-time feed for nutritional reasons.

If your baby is less than eight months old and you’re embarking on a sleep training plan, a dream feed can be a helpful tool, particularly if you’re worried about your baby getting enough calories in the night. When you ultimately stop dream feeds is up to you, though.

How do dream feeds work on newborns?

Although dream feeding most often refers to one late-night feed to get your baby through until morning, in The Dream Feed Method, co-authors Freedman and Stacy Karol say that incorporating dream feeds all night long can be an effective way to encourage very young babies—less than four months old—to sleep through the night.

By pre-emptively getting up and feeding your newborn at, say, 1 and 4 a.m., Freedman says you can reduce the amount your baby cries. And you both still get hours of sleep and somewhat regular sleep cycles.

If you follow a sleep schedule, as outlined in the book, you can have your baby sleeping through the night by four months. That's assuming you follow the gradual progression model Freedman lays out, though.

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While Freedman says that this method won’t work for all babies, he and his wife used the dream feed method for their three children with great success. With Freedman taking on the night-time feeds, his wife was able to sleep from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Now that’s dreamy.

The best gear for dream feeds

Dream feeding relies on a cozy, comfortable baby. Experts suggest focusing on items that reduce colic and gassy babies and promote a soothing sleep environment.

This article was originally published on Oct 18, 2020

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